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Tuchel stands up to player power at PSG, and it worked

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel made a bold move by standing up to big names at a club where player power usually rules.

He dropped 19-year-old France forward Kylian Mbappe, widely tipped as soccer’s next superstar, and midfielder Adrien Rabiot for the game at Marseille on Sunday night.

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Both players are Parisian-born and fully understood the importance of the match for PSG fans against the club’s bitter rival. Yet both turned up late to a pre-match team talk, something Tuchel simply could not excuse and he left them out of the starting lineup.

“(It was) a disciplinary situation. We needed to do that,” Tuchel said unapologetically on Canal Plus television. “It’s like that.”

Mbappe came off the bench in the second half and scored the first goal in a 2-0 win which sent PSG to an 11th straight league win. It was also the World Cup star’s 10th league goal so far, in just seven games for him.

Rabiot, who refused to be on France’s reserves list for the World Cup and has long been negotiating a new PSG contract, came on about 10 minutes from time.

Despite his authoritative decision-making, which was backed by PSG winger Julian Draxler and star forward Neymar, the coach was surprisingly downbeat and sounded almost despondent after the game.

“I don’t like playing without Kylian,” he said. “I hate it.”

Tuchel was then was then asked if it was a good day for him as a coach.

“For me, personally, no,” he said, his head dropping and his voice trailing off. “For me it was quite tough today.”

It has been a topsy-turvy week for Tuchel, who saw his side fall behind twice and dominated for long spells in a 2-2 home draw with Napoli in the Champions League on Wednesday. That draw leaves PSG third in its group and in danger of not qualifying for the Round of 16.

If so, Tuchel would become the first PSG coach knocked out of the group stage since cash-rich Qatari investors QSI took over at the club seven years ago.

On the other hand, his team is coasting in the league with 39 goals in 11 games and the best defense.

Tuchel has earned praise from the French media for his player management skills, often touted as a counterpoint to his predecessor Unai Emery, but the decision to drop Mbappe seemed to weigh heavily on him.

Perhaps with good reason, for it puts him in a potentially difficult position because star players often have their own way at PSG.

Such is the club’s desire to win the Champions League and join Europe’s elite, some players have been seemingly indulged.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, was allowed days off to go hunting in the forests of his native Sweden. Others, such as Edinson Cavani and Javier Pastore, returned late from the mid-season winter break – which even led to public criticism from their own captain, Thiago Silva.

Pampering stars has not had the necessary outcome, either, with PSG unable to get beyond the quarterfinals of the Champions League since QSI took over. In the last two years, PSG has failed to reach the quarters, leading to Emery’s departure and Tuchel’s arrival.

Despite his friendly and easy-going appearance, Tuchel is a disciplinarian and firm on principles such as cutting out sugary drinks on the team bus and strict time-keeping. At a club with such lofty ambitions, these should be rudimentary.

Yet the way Mbappe was comforted before Sunday’s game, even by the vastly experienced goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, suggests he got the sympathy vote rather than Tuchel getting the understanding.

Even Tuchel seemed anxiously keen to encourage Mbappe before the teenage forward went on in the 62nd minute, wrapping a consoling arm around him as if to apologize for the sanction.

Still, Tuchel was at least supported by Draxler, who scored the second goal against Marseille.

“It’s something between the coach and the player, but for me it’s clear the club is more important than a single player,” Draxler said. “The coach will decide what he wants and we won, so he’s right.”

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

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Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

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Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.